Research integrity University Affairs

Yuqing Zhang’s 10 years of fraud, a whistleblower account

"All these SEM, EDX, TEM, BET, XRD, FT-IR, and contact angles in the theses and papers from our lab, where do they come from? We made them up. "

A whistleblower report surfaced on the Chinese internet last week. A former student collected evidence and accused the Tianjin University engineering professor Yuqing Zhang of research fraud. 10 years of nanotechnology and environmental pollution research, sixty Master theses, at least 50 peer reviewed papers in respectable Elsevier journals: all are entirely fabricated, with barely or no experiments ever done. Everything fake, peer reviewers who spotted irregularities were bamboozled with even more fraud, utterly fraudulent data from Master theses was attributed in journal publications to wrong authors and plagiarised again and again, while swelling the CV of Zhang’s wunderkind daughter, Simeng Zhang, now PhD student in Australia. The whistleblower lost everything, he had to drop out of university.

Even if Professor Zhang was swiftly sacked when the report surfaced, this is a huge scandal, which, after the paper mill scandals, does not exactly inspire confidence into Chinese scientific success story. Read the translated report by Xiang Lv for yourself, it beggars belief.

The original report was found by Tiger BB8. Its translation was done by the mathematician Hao Chen of University of Göttingen in Germany, who previously together with some colleagues debunked a Harvard study which claimed COVID-19 pandemic started already in the summer 2019. Chen told me his swift work on translation was driven by his anger over Zhang’s fraud and sympathy for the whistleblower Xiang Lv.

Zhang’s institutional website with his publication record (journal impact factors meticulously listed) and his patents is available as back-up here. The list of all SIXTY MSc theses he supervised (not a single PhD thesis though!) is available here, courtesy of Hao Chen:

The full report by Xiang Lv (in Chinese) is available below for download (it originally was posted online on Baidu), what follows is the translation by Hao Chen.


Real-name report of academic fraud of Professor ZHANG Yuqing(张裕卿)from School of Chemical Engineering, Tianjin University (TJU), and his daughter, ZHANG Simeng(张丝萌)

By Lv Xiang(吕翔), former Master student of Chemical Engineering at Tianjin University, Nov 2020

Translated by Hao Chen

Introduction

I (Lv Xiang) come from an ordinary farmer’s family. I did my undergraduate study at an ordinary college. After more than a year of hard preparation for the exam, I was admitted as a Master student at the School of Chemical Engineering of TJU. I was really happy at the time. Because chemical engineering at TJU is ranked first in this country. It is the place where countless chemical students dream of. Every year, only one student from my college could be admitted to study chem. eng. at TJU. I was planning to study hard at TJU because I really loved scientific research.

The following is the person I want to report: my advisor at TJU, Professor Zhang Yuqing. The first time I met Prof. Zhang was just after the entrance exam. I remember that he was very welcoming. He said that he was within at least the top 20, possibly top 10, in the School of Chemical Engineering, in terms of quantity and quality of published papers. His students can obtain national scholarships every year. In short, I felt that he is just awesome. When I left, he accompanied me to the door, and we shook hands. I thought I was very lucky to have such an enthusiastic and capable advisor.

Fall 2014, the first semester of my Master study. My main task was to take classes and occasionally go to the laboratory for the group meetings. But I found that during the group meetings, it was always Prof. Zhang doing the talks. The students don’t speak at all. I felt that everyone was impatient with Prof. Zhang. Some even curse Prof. Zhang after the meeting, calling him “bastard”, “asshole”. For several times, I wanted to argue with them. How could one curse his mentor like that? Where was the respect?

Winter 2014, just before the winter vacation, I went to the laboratory to help with the experiment. I became aware of a lot of fakeries. Experimental data were not recorded as they were, but artificially adjusted. I wondered at the time, how could one do this? Isn’t this fraud? I wanted to figure it out, but no one talks to me, as if everyone in the lab was hiding something from me.

Spring 2015, second semester. In addition to classes, I need to read articles and write a journal paper. Normally, journal papers are written after one obtains data from one’s own experiments. This was not the case for us.

Prof. Zhang asked us to revise the Master thesis of a previous Master student into a journal paper. In turn, our own Master thesis will become the journal paper of a later student. This is a tradition of Zhang’s lab. Not clear when it started.

Fall of 2015, third semester. My paper is finished and is about to be submitted. I also began to prepare the opening report. It was then that I discovered what the lab was doing in all these years. It is basically doping polymers with particles, then we claim an improved performance of water treatment. The only difference is the particle, you just try any particle, and the performance is always claimed to have improved. My project is also just another particle. In experiments, I found that many previous data were wrong. I could not reproduce their results no matter how hard I tried. None of the results of previous students is reproducible.

I clearly remember that, during a group meeting, I told Prof. Zhang that I repeated the experiment several times, and it does not work, I could not reproduce the previous results, could you give it a try? Prof. Zhang suddenly became furious and said, “If I do experiments, why do I need a graduate student like you?” Just in front of so many fellow students in the lab. I’m very disappointed. I wondered, don’t professors do experiments? I also suddenly understood why no one keeps notes of the experiments, and why our results are improving no matter what particle we dope. Because only with an improved result could you make Prof. Zhang happy, and only then could you graduate. It is not possible to survive in this lab if I do experiments honestly. Later, someone told me that the atmosphere of this laboratory is just like this. Honest experiments are being scolded, frauds are being praised. If you do honest experiments, your results would not be better than previous students, and you might actually disprove previous results. Thus the students are forced to fake.

Senior students told me that, once you are in Zhang’s lab, there are only three ways out: 1) jump into the lake and be set free, 2) drop out of the university and go home, and 3) academic fraud.

I didn’t dare to jump into the lake, or drop out of the university. As I continued with experiments, and got to know Prof. Zhang better, I discovered more secrets. It turns out that our laboratory basically did not use any equipment for characterization from 2011 to 2016. We did not book any equipment time. You can check this from TJU’s platform for booking equipment. At the most, we just go to other labs for IR spectroscopy or contact angle measurement. First, the booking of equipment costs money. Second, Prof. Zhang does not advocate booking equipment, and he does not share the booking password with others. Third, TJU’s booking system is not very convenient. Fourth, even if you succeeded with the booking after all the troubles, you can only wait to be scolded if your result is different from what Zhang expected.

Everyone knows failure is normal in experimental work. I don’t know why Zhang doesn’t understand this. So here comes the problem:

All these SEM, EDX, TEM, BET, XRD, FT-IR, and contact angles in the theses and papers from our lab, where do they come from? We made them up.

Yes, you did not read it wrong, we just made them up! Before I came to TJU, I never thought that these things could be faked, and I never thought that one day I will learn to fake them. I really wanted to do scientific research at TJU. I really hate fakery. I didn’t expect that one day I would also learn to fake, and there is nothing I can do to change it unless I give up my degree. You might think: you could just do your job correctly, how could you not graduate then? Because my opening report is just not scientific, yet my result must be better than previous students. Other than fakery, there is no way to get the results that Prof. Zhang wanted.

In all these years, the SEM and TEM from our lab are basically borrowed from other students or screenshots from online materials. BET, XRD, and infrared are even simpler: Just borrow data from others, identify the positions of peaks as you wanted, and use Origin to adjust the data. Although the infrared data consist of thousands of points, it suffices to adjust about ten data points. The contact angle is also very simple. Everyone knows that the longer the water stays on the surface, the smaller the contact angle is. So if you want to make the contact angle smaller, you just leave it longer, and you will get an angle as small as you want.

When writing the Master thesis, as long as Prof. Zhang sees the figure he expected, and have the Origin dataset, he will be very happy. He doesn’t care where the figures come from. Sometimes he even prompts you to fake. Moreover, he has a particularly vicious trick.

Since he knows these data are faked, he will force the student to sign a statement before graduating, stating that these experimental data are real. Otherwise, you won’t graduate.

He did this so that, on the one hand, in case that someone reports his fraud, he would claim that it was all the fault of the students, and he had nothing to do with it. On the other hand, he warned students not to report the fakery since otherwise, the students cannot get away themselves. How sinister and cunning! This is also why the victim students dare not speak up and report him. Using these fakery methods, Zhang’s lab has no failed experiment from 2011 to 2020 (I did not check data before 2011, and am not sure if they are all faked). Every experiment is successful, and can be as successful as one wants. On average, Prof. Zhang publishes at least 4 SCI papers. Each of these paper costs less than 500 RMB, because he rarely pays the students (we are each given 100 RMB per month in the 2nd year of Master study. With deduction on reagent costs, that was about 52 RMB per month), and did not pay anything for equipment usage.

Thanks to these fraudulent publications, Zhang was promoted from an associate professor to a full professor. It is not clear how many grants have been applied for with the fraudulent papers, and how much money has been scammed. This explains why Prof. Zhang looks down on other researchers of the School of Chemical Engeneering, who were not equally successful in publishing, and on those researchers who collaborate with industry, as he thought he could fake his way out of all these, and those who know dare not to report him. Prof. Zhang’s research ideas are random. Then Master theses were made up according to these random ideas, and journal papers are made up from the thesis and the reviewers’ requirements.

You might wonder, how could Zhang, being such a bastard, become a professor? Let me tell you how he behaves during our group meetings. He would teach us to do experiments honestly and seriously, only then could we get good results. He would brag about how he earned his results with hard work. He thinks that others are not qualified as TJU’s professors. It’s all their fault that the ranking of TJU drops, and he only increases TJU’s ranking. Most ironically, to guarantee that we stay in the lab, he threatens that those who lie would be struck by lighting(说假话遭雷劈). If that was true, he would have been struck thousands of times. But new students are easily deceived by his appearance, as I once was. In the end, at every meeting, I only hoped he would finish his rubbish soon. That explains why the students called him bastard when I first joined the lab.

The figure below is the introduction to Prof. Zhang on the website of the School of Chem. Eng. of TJU. Doesn’t it look great? I guess many people were deceived by these before contacting Prof. Zhang. I was. But his so-called “visiting scholars” are all fake. It speaks about visiting positions for a year and six months. In reality, it could be less than a month. For example, the visit below to Queensland University was said to be from Mar to Sep 2015. In fact, he was back in March within two weeks and left again for another two weeks at the end of September. It’s just tourism with public funding, and he calls himself a six-month visiting scholar … even a senior scholar!

When reading and writing papers, I found that the students from our lab can only be the second author. The first and corresponding author is always Prof. Zhang. I did not understand, so I asked Zhang. He said that he had the idea, he designed the experiments, and he modified the paper at the end. So he deserves the first authorship. Moreover, my thesis is not mine, so how dare I ask questions.

Later, when reading Zhang’s papers, I found a certain “Zhang Simeng” who made it to the first author. So I really wanted to know who she is. It turns out that she is the daughter of Prof. Zhang, an undergraduate at Hebei University of Technology (2011-2015). She has never been to our lab, and no one has seen her.

Then how can she publish our results! Even as the first author! This is too unfair! I eventually learned that the papers of Zhang’s daughter are all works left by graduating students from our lab. Zhang just revises the paper and transfers the authorship to his daughter, Zhang Simeng. So, Zhang fakes papers and thesis, forces students to fake, and fakes for his own daughter … is there no one there to punish him? Can he just get away like this? The university might not be aware of his fraud. The students dare not to speak up, even not to show anger. They can only do whatever he asks, like a puppet. Even with the slightest disobedience, he would use his “do you want to graduate?” card. To graduate, the students can only endure him. In this way, more and more students became his victims.

Many like me came with an enthusiasm for science, and it all died out after meeting him. That explains why few from our lab continue with doctoral studies. On the appearance, it seems that I was doing experiments every day. In fact, it was all fake and meaningless. I hate myself like that. I didn’t plan to drop out. It was not easy to get into TJU, esp. for a poor student from the countryside like me. I am the hope of my family. If I drop out, how can I face my parents who work days and nights in the field? So I can only bear it.

Another reason is that Zhang is also afraid of people finding out about his fakery. For example, he is especially afraid of us finding out about him publishing papers for his daughter. He never mentions that he has a daughter. If anyone dared to mention his daughter, he would immediately become furious, cursing the person to death. Even when he asks us to fake, he would use the word “predict”, not “fake” directly. He might have some shame after all, so apparently, everyone just lived with it.

The last straw that led to my decision to drop out was the mid-term assessment of Tianjin’s “Development of Ocean with Technology” Program (KJXH2014-05). This is one of the funding programs that Prof. Zhang applied for. Needless to say, he faked it again. Below is a photo I took during the assessment. In the middle was an official from Tianjin’s Ocean Bureau. If anyone knows him, please tell him that Zhang lied to him.

During this assessment, Prof. Zhang not only used faked experiment records and data but also used papers that have nothing to do with this project to deceive examiners.

When the examiners inspected our lab, Zhang, in front of us all, took out a large bottle of purchased silica particles, and claim it to be a new type of multifunctional particle synthesized by ourselves.

He then pointed to a big device made of stainless steel that has been in our lab for more than ten years, and claimed that we used this device to make casting solutions. The device has suffered from a lack of maintenance for years. The plug has been disconnected for quite some time, and Zhang only connected the plug back the day before (I was wondering what he was during there, as he usually asks his students to do the works.) The following day, he was claiming that we made casting solutions with that device. He lies to the examiners in front of all his students, and he tells us that those who lie will be struck by lightning? I have never seen such a shameless professor, with no shame at all. Since then, I became completely disappointed with him. He is a scum in my eyes. I don’t want to see him again, he makes me sick.

After the examiners left, he still, shamelessly, claims that he did a good job and will get a good review. I just smiled bitterly at that. The results of the assessment came in a few days later, and it was really positive. Since then, I decided to leave him. I can’t bear him anymore. Finally, in early June 2016, I left the lab. I really couldn’t stay in Zhang’s lab any longer. I felt sick every time I saw him. When I left, I sent a message with severe accusations of Zhang. Soon later I finished the administrative procedure to drop out of the university. As for the reason for dropping out, I said it was a personal reason. That was because Zhang’s signature is required, and he wouldn’t sign if I claimed that he forced the students to fake.

Ever since, TJU, once the university of my dreams, became a garbage university in my eyes. I know it’s not fair for TJU. Professors like Zhang should be very rare in TJU. But because of my experience, I really can’t be objective and fair. Even when I dropped out, I didn’t think of reporting this bastard. Traditionally, we were taught to be tolerant. We don’t have a culture of reporting fraud. Moreover, I don’t know whom to report to, nor how to report. Moreover, many students that I know hadn’t graduated yet. I was afraid that reporting Zhang would affect them. After all, his students are innocent. No one would expect to meet an academic scum like Zhang at TJU.

In 2017, I communicated once with him about his fraud. I didn’t expect him to repent. But he also said that I have misrepresented the facts and threatened that he has reported me to the police. Below is a screenshot. Now three years have passed, all students related to Zhang that I know of have graduated. I have nothing to worry about. So I decided to report him. Academic scum like him must be punished! I hope that TJU could follow the facts, follow the law and regulations, be fair and just, and punish Zhang Yuqing publicly!

Zhang email: “Lv Xiang, from the position of the university and your supervisor, we tried hard to convince you and guide you onto a right track of life, but unfortunately, you are so rebellious. Here is again a statement about the problem that you raised: 1) During your stay at TJU, many students said that you are different from others, in that you are difficult to communicate, keeping a distance from others. I, in order to protect you, told them not to hold this opinion against you, and tried my best to guide you. 2) Your dropping out is your own problem. You stated on your application that it was your personal reason. 3) Your current accusation consists of defamation and blackmail, the university has learned that and it has been reported to police. You will pay if you continue. 4) Your behaviour will affect a lot of people, including the university and many who have graduated. Hope that you do not continue on this wrong track of life.

Fraudulent papers of Zhang and his daughter

[Translator: what follows is a just a partial summary of a long list of fraud.]

1. Zhang, Simeng, Rongshu Wang, Shaofeng Zhang, Guoling Li, and Yuqing Zhang. “Development of phosphorylated silica nanotubes (PSNTs)/polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) composite membranes for wastewater treatment.” Chemical engineering journal 230 (2013): 260-271. doi: 10.1016/j.cej.2013.06.098

is a reproduction of the master thesis

* “Study of Phosphorylated Silica Nanotubes (PSNTs)/Polyvinylidene Fluoride Composite Membranes”(磷酸化二氧化硅纳米管/聚偏氟乙烯复合膜的研究)by SHAN Xing(单星), with 90% overlap and obvious image reuse (with none and little modification).

2. Zhang, Simeng, Rongshu Wang, Shaofeng Zhang, Guoling Li, and Yuqing Zhang. “Treatment of wastewater containing oil using phosphorylated silica nanotubes (PSNTs)/polyvinylidene fluoride Desalination (2013) doi: 10.1016/j.desal.2013.11.008

Hand-drawn spectra, top S Zhang et al Desalination 2013, bottom Shan thesis.

is another reproduction of the thesis of SHAN Xing.

3. Zhang, Yuqing, Yan Xu, Yiren Lu, Lili Zhao, and Lixin Song. “Phosphorylated silica nanotubes: preparation and characterization.” Nanotechnology 24, no. 31 (2013): 315701. doi: 10.1088/0957-4484/24/31/315701

is the third reproduction of the thesis of SHAN Xing.

4. Zhang, Simeng, Rongshu Wang, Yuqing Zhang, and Yonggang Jin. “Polyvinylidene fluoride photocatalytic films embedded by porous ZrxSi1− xO2 shell/void/TiO2 core particles.” Separation and Purification Technology 156 (2015): 535-543. doi: 10.1016/j.seppur.2015.10.046

is a reproduction of the thesis * “Study on channels regulation of porous Zr-SVT (Zr-doped SiO2 shell/void/TiO2 core particles)/PVDF photocatalytic films”(Zr掺杂多孔SiO2/void/TiO2填充PVDF光催化膜孔道调控的研究) by CAO Zhipu(曹志普) with obvious image and data reuse. It also reuses figures and data from paper 3 above and

5. Zhang, Yuqing, and Yunge Zhang. “Porous ZrxSi1− xO2 shell/void/TiO2 core particles with enhancing transfer for cleaning water.” Journal of colloid and interface science 448 (2015): 517-524. doi: 10.1016/j.jcis.2015.02.063

6. Zhang, Simeng, Rongshu Wang, Shaofeng Zhang, Guoling Li, and Yuqing Zhang. “Radial-arrayed porous SiO2 shell/void/TiO2 core photocatalytic nanoparticles with enhancing mass and light transfer for environmental protection.” Science of Advanced Materials 6 (2014): 1262-1268. doi: 10.1166/sam.2014.1902

could be a reproduction of the thesis * “Study on Surface Modified TiO2-SiO2/PSF Composite Membrane and its Properties”(表面修饰TiO2-SiO2/聚砜复合膜及性能研究) by JIN Zhenhua(金贞花).

More hand-drawn spectra form MSc theses, in peer-reviewed journals

7. Zhang, Yuqing, and Jing Zhu. “Composite photocatalytic membrane prepared by embedding porous SiO2 shell/void/TiO2 core particles into polycarbonate for photodegrading and removing pollutant from water.” Chemical Engineering Science 126 (2015): 390-398. doi: 10.1016/j.ces.2014.12.043

was meant to be published with ZHANG Simeng as the first author, but was rejected by JCTB [Journal of Chemical Technology & Biotechnology] several times, hence to be transferred to a student of ZHANG Yuqing.

Pah, who cares. Elsevier’s Chemical Engineering Science has Impact Factor 3.9, compare to measly 2.8 of Wiley’s JCTB where the paper was rejected twice

The following three papers, with ZHANG Simeng as third author, were probably submitted when Zhang Simeng was still in high school.

8. Zhang, Yuqing, Fanglong Liu, Simeng Zhang, Yuyuan Zhang, and Shaomin Liu. “Preparation of Nonstoichiometric Silica with Multi-Active Groups and Effect of Its Doping on Polysulfone Membrane Capabilities.” Separation Science and Technology 47, no. 16 (2012): 2311-2319. doi: 10.1080/01496395.2012.672514

9. Zhang, Yuqing, Yan Xu, Simeng Zhang, Yuyuan Zhang, and Zhiping Xu. “Study on a novel composite membrane for treatment of sewage containing oil.” Desalination 299 (2012): 63-69. doi: 10.1016/j.desal.2012.05.020

10. Zhang, Yuqing, Xuehua Zhao, Simeng Zhang, Guodong Zhang, and Shaomin Liu. “Optimized preparation conditions of yttria doped zirconia coatings on potassium ferrate (VI) electrode for alkaline super-iron battery.” Applied energy 99 (2012): 265-271. doi: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2012.05.036

Thanks to these fraudulent papers, Simeng Zhang was admitted to TJU as master student in spring 2015, as doctoral student in winter 2016, and to Monash University as PhD student in summer 2017. Her current advisor is Prof. Huanting WANG.

Fraudulent theses of Zhang’s students

Just one example: The following two theses contain overlapping images and data.

* “Research on the preparation and electrochemical properties of hollow Sn-doped MnO2 microsphere for supercapacitor”(中空Sn掺杂MnO2微球的制备及其用于超级电容器的研究) by XU Shilong(许世龙)

* “Synthesis and electrochemical performance of Sb-doped porous SnO2 coating on MnO2 for supercapacitor”(Sb掺杂多孔SnO2包覆MnO2的制备及用于超级电容器性能的研究) by ZHAO Xuehua(赵雪花)

Different theses, different materials, same values.

How Zhang guided me to fake

11. Zhang, Yuqing, and Xiang Lv. “Effect of porous YxFeyZr1− x− yO2 coated TiO2 solid superacid nanoparticles on polyvinylidene fluoride membranes properties.” Journal of Membrane Science 520 (2016): 54-65. doi: 10.1016/j.memsci.2016.07.041

This paper of mine is a reproduction of the thesis “Investigation of polyvinylidene fluoride hybrid membranes filled with porous YxFeyZr1-x-yO2 coated TiO2 solid superacid” by WANG Lili(王莉莉).

In my paper, the value of acidity (H0) in tables 1 to 4 are all fake.

According to the formula in the paper, it is impossible to have H0 such high. I also failed to obtain the absorbance values as listed in the tables, no matter how hard I try. I was scolded by Zhang because of this. So these tables are all fake, and they are the basis of my analysis. One sees that the H0 in my paper is different from the values in the thesis. It was because the reviewer pointed out that the value doesn’t seem right, so Zhang asked me to make up another value. In fact, if one calculates with the formula in the paper used to compute H0, a logarithm with negative argument will appear in the computation, so it is just mathematically impossible.

12. Zhang, Yuqing, and Pingli Liu. “Preparation of porous ZrO2 solid superacid shell/void/TiO2 core particles and effect of doping them on PVDF membranes properties.” Chemical Engineering Science 135 (2015): 67-75. doi: 10.1016/j.ces.2015.06.037

contains a similar problem. The absorbance values are just impossible.

13. Zhang, Yuqing, Yanhua Hu, Longfei Zhang, Ying Wang, Wei Liu, Chengbo Ma, and Shaomin Liu. “Porous SiO2 coated AlxFeyZr1-x-yO2 solid superacid nanoparticles with negative charge for polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) membrane: Cleaning and partial desalinating seawater.” Journal of hazardous materials 384 (2020): 121471. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2019.121471

contains a similar problem. Three values are just impossible. Back to my own paper. Tables 5-5 and 5-6 of the thesis listed five cleanings. Tables 10 and 11 in my paper listed 7 cleaning. Zhang guided to me to add two more cleaning. For the last two, he asked me to “predict” a value, which means making up values. Of course, values for the previous five cleanings were also fake. I tried to reproduce and find them all wrong. I was scolded by Zhang for this.

For the stability of membrane, it was not in the thesis, but the reviewer required it. So Zhang asked me to “predict”. Under his guidance, I predicted the stability in six months within 10 minutes, and predicted until the second digit after the decimal point. See Table 12 in my paper.

I’m ashamed of this paper. I would like to ask Prof. Zhi Wang, as an editor of the journal, to retract my paper.

A summary of Zhang’s fakery

Fraud listed in this part include Papers 4, 5, 11, 12, 13 above and

14. Zhang, Yuqing, Shichen Sun, Song Wei, and Shaomin Liu. “Effect of formation of micro reaction locations (MRLs) on properties of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) membranes.” Journal of Membrane Science 553 (2018): 117-130. doi: 10.1016/j.memsci.2018.02.014

15. Zhang, Yuqing, Yanhua Hu, Yunge Zhang, and Shaomin Liu. “TiO2/void/porous Al2O3 shell embedded in polyvinylidene fluoride film for cleaning wastewater.” Advanced Powder Technology 29, no. 7 (2018): 1582-1590. doi: 10.1016/j.apt.2018.03.023

16. Zhang, Yuqing, and Miao Cui. “Porous YxFeyZr1− x− yO2 coated TiO2 solid superacid particles/PVDF hybrid membranes with anti-fouling property.” Chemical Engineering Journal 301 (2016): 342-352. doi: 10.1016/j.cej.2016.05.002

17. Zhang, Yuqing, Lili Wang, and Yan Xu. “ZrO2 solid superacid porous shell/void/TiO2 core particles (ZVT)/polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) composite membranes with anti-fouling performance for sewage treatment.” Chemical Engineering Journal 260 (2015): 258-268. doi: 10.1016/j.cej.2014.08.083

Multiple submission / self-plagiarism

After Zhang forced students to fake, the faked data will first appear in the master theses of the students. Then Zhang will try to maximize the profit of these data. When new students join the lab, he will ask them to revise the Chinese theses into English journal papers. If the thesis contains sections A, B, C, D, he will require a journal paper using sections A, B, C, another journal paper using sections B, C, D, and a third with sections A, C, D. Then a Chinese master thesis turns into three journal papers. But not every thesis can be turned into three. Some theses are too short or too fake, hence can only be used for one or two journal papers. Then one must submit multiple times. For example, the thesis of WANG Lili was published as my journal paper. It was also reproduced as Paper 16 above.

More hand-drawn spectra!

For another example, the Papers 12, 17, and

18. Zhang, Yuqing, Lili Wang, and Yan Xu. “Effect of doping porous ZrO2 solid superacid shell/void/TiO2 core nanoparticles (ZVT) on properties of polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) membranes.” Desalination 358 (2015): 84-93. doi: 10.1016/j.desal.2014.12.022

are just copies of each other.

Almost all Zhang’s papers have this problem, as well as all her daughter’s papers. For instance, we have seen that * Papers 1, 2, 3 are reproductions of the same thesis. * Papers 4, 5 are from the same thesis. * Papers 6, 7 are from the same thesis.

Conclusion

I only listed a small part of Zhang’s fraud. In the past 10 years, Zhang faked at least 30-40 theses, and at least 50 journal papers. It means that 30 to 40 graduate students have been his victims. Everyone knows that he’s a scum, but no one yet dares to report him. One reason is the statement that he asked the students to sign. I have four demands:

  1. Fire Zhang Yuqing.
  2. Proper arrangement for Zhang’s former and current students. For Zhang’s former students, Zhang needs to apologize to each one of them. Regarding his current students, the seniors must graduate without any problem, the juniors should be transferred to another group. Students are the victims. No one expected that he would force students to fake, and no one expected a scum like Zhang at a first-rate university like TJU.
  3. Compensation. Especially my student loan. I borrowed the money to receive good education from TJU. I did not get it, but get harmed.
  4. Improve the regulatory system for professors. Zhang reveals a serious problem of TJU in its regulation of research. Zhang could get away for two reasons: 1) The students wanted to graduate, hence could only endure him. 2) The school has no supervision for the professors. I once asked where to report fraud, and no one knows. I hope that the school could allow students to anonymously assess their professors.

Big thanks again to Hao Chen for translating. There is much more evidence of fraud and plagiarism by Zhang in the report which could not be all incorporated into this article.

As soon as the report became public, Zhang was immediately sacked by Tianjin University, as Lu Chen found out. The press release by the School of Chemical Engineering from 19 November 2020 said:

“After receiving the real-name report of Professor Zhang Yuqing, the college immediately established a special investigation team to conduct investigations in accordance with regulations. After preliminary verification by the investigation team, it was determined that Professor Zhang Yuqing’s academic misconduct was true.

Professor Zhang Yuqing admitted that he had committed academic misconduct and was willing to take full responsibility. At present, Tianjin University has terminated the employment contract with Zhang Yuqing.

Other related issues are under further investigation.”

I contacted the new PhD supervisor of Zhang’s wunderkind daughter Simeng Zhang, the Monash professor Huanting Wang, as well as the leadership of this Australian university, sending the original whistleblower report as attachment. After a reminder I got this reply from Elizabeth Croft, Dean of Engineering:

Monash is committed to upholding rigorous standards of academic integrity and honesty for all students and staff. Any deviation from those standards will be investigated and managed appropriately by the University.” 

The anonymous materials science expert Thallarcha Lechrioleuca (inventor of #FakeSpectraGoogling) posted evidence of Zhang fraud on Pubpeer as soon as I shared Tiger BB8’s tweets. Elisabeth Bik soon joined him, and found much more. Here are some of their finds:

My own prediction is however that nobody is interested in retracting those 50 utterly fictional papers Zhang published with or without his daughter. Not the Zhangs for sure, but neither the Tianjin University keen to avoid a scandal, nor the other 60 graduates of Zhang lab who kept silent, and most likely, the scholary publishers and their academic editors would also rather avoid the bother. In fact, I wager that most if not all will remain untouched by the journals (mostly Elsevier, but some also from Royal Society of Chemistry, Taylor & Francis, MDPI, Springer Nature, Institute of Physics etc).

Although there might be some corrigenda appearing soon, to reassure the scientific community that all conclusions remain unaffected.


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9 comments on “Yuqing Zhang’s 10 years of fraud, a whistleblower account

  1. Challenger

    That is why a lot of modern science is not reproducible in almost any field of research. Numbers (whatever is of interest) need to grow every year for continuous flow of publications. Papers are not retracted even after the fraud exposed. All together it is softly named as “reproducibility crisis”.

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  2. An awful situation. Very brave of whistleblower Xiang Lv to publish this in spite of possible repercussions. Thank you Tiger, Leonid and Hao Chen for bringing all this to light.

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  3. Smut Clyde

    “After receiving the real-name report of Professor Zhang Yuqing, the college immediately established a special investigation team to conduct investigations in accordance with regulations. After preliminary verification by the investigation team, it was determined that Professor Zhang Yuqing’s academic misconduct was true.”

    Perhaps a rapid investigation was possible because the administration was vaguely aware all along of Zhang’s corruption, but no-one had anything to gain by acting until Xiang Lv delivered his dossier.

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    • Indeed. This is less than half the story. It would be interesting to know the details of why this particular faker was – eventually – disciplined. One factor may be that he failed to suck upwards, such as by including superiors and notable colleagues as authors. Pimping his own kid is just pathetic. It is fascinating to read the insights into the modern Chinese attitude to intellectual corruption. Explains a lot about how successful the Cultural Revolution really was. Easiest to explain is the attitude of the journals. Just take the money and run. And anybody who publishes in them can be safely ignored.

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      • NMH, the failed scientist and incel

        Is it “pimping the kid”, or promoting the success of the family? I really think this depends on what culture you were raised in.

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  4. Well, for everyone piling on China and saying it’s just a bunch of shameless fakers so their science can’t be trusted, it’s kind of hard to explain away the existence of this Xiang Lv fellow.

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    • Well, Mr Lv was forved to leave science without getting even a MSc degree…

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      • I’m not that familiar with the Chinese system. If he was doing a Masters, does that mean he already had a Bachelors, or was it an undergraduate degree that results in a Masters upon completion? If he already has a Bachelors, from another university, then technically he can get a science job and still probably go to grad school somewhere else, although I don’t know if he would want to do that after this kind of experience.

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    • The guy ran riot for 10 years with no questions asked. That’s entirely consistent with a truly rotten system. He just got too greedy.

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